Like many of today’s savvy millennials, Jessica Santana and Evin Robinson decided to combine their corporate business and tech skills to forge a path of their own—one that not only pays it forward but enriches the community they grew up in.
The duo wanted to lead the charge to promote tech skills in urban communities—qualifications that can boost job and salary potential for a minority demographic that’s still seeing unemployment higher than 10%. In comes Brooklyn on Tech, a nonprofit whose mission is “to inspire the next generation of tech thought leaders emerging from the borough of Brooklyn, New York.”
The organization works to develop the interests of students and professionals in the fields of technology by providing them with training resources needed to make them more marketable in today’s fast-paced business world. Their Tech Flex Scholars Program offers a yearlong enrichment experience for high school seniors to participate in weekly presentations, workshops, tech company visits and case studies to expose urban youths to the vast opportunities that the tech industry provides, via partnerships with companies and organizations including Wix, Microsoft and General Assembly.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Santana and Robinson to talk about their passion for advocating for STEM and tech education and how they have been able to grow their organization from a thought to a movement.
BlackEnterprise.com: What was the inspiration behind starting Brooklyn on Tech?
Jessica Santana: When we think back to our adolescence, Evin and I were always interested in technology. When Myspace.com came out, we were teaching ourselves how to code and use Web design tools, but we didn’t necessarily see ourselves as being future tech professionals back then. A lot of the programs that we participated in while in high school pushed us to go into business careers. We obtained degrees in business—me in accounting and Evin in economics—and we ultimately found that we weren’t in careers that we really enjoyed. We decided to turn down offers to some top companies and get our master’s degrees in information technology. After going into tech and working in the field, we saw all the changes going on in Brooklyn, it really pushed us to start something in a community that we’ve been part of our entire lives.
Now that we’re in a position to give back, we wanted to do so via a nonprofit.
Evin Robinson: When we were first developing Brooklyn on Tech, we had to not only understand just the idea of the organization and the social mission for it, but we had to understand how to turn that mission into something that would be scalable and we could measure metrics. We knew that in order to be successful as a nonprofit organization, it was all about metrics and data and how we made that quantifiable. Our business backgrounds gave us the knowledge to understand how to do the research, target a market
There has been a major boost in advocating coding, IT and other tech skills in urban and minority communities, as well as emerging tech hubs around the world. Why do you think this is, and how does Brooklyn on Tech fit into this boost?
Evin: When it comes to creativity, a lot of organizations are starting to notice the abundance in these communities. We’ve seen a large culture shift in that brands are now starting to associate themselves with our communities. They’re really starting to see the value of us as a market.
Jessica: Our consumer base is getting a lot more sophisticated. People are becoming smarter with their purchases and a lot of it is related to technology. You have all of these organizations and corporations wanting to position themselves in places where they see this huge demographic shift and where they can ensure what they’re offering reflects the needs of this consumer pool. Many are also trying to diversify their organizations because they understand that a person is more likely to buy their products if the person marketing and creating their products looks like them. This is directly affecting their bottom lines.
People are starting to value the aspect of being the creators not just the consumers of technology.
Where do you see Brooklyn on Tech going in the future?
Jessica: For Evin and I, it was never access to technology. It’s more about the mindset of technology. How do you move from consumer to creator? Companies are starting to value that, and they want to include people who have been historically left out of the conversation and begin to incorporate them into it. We want to change mindsets, and build that pool of professionals for them to incorporate.
Evin: When you walk through [urban communities], young people have all the gadgets—mobile tablets, smartphones … Beats by Dre. It’s getting our young generation into that mindset of the creator. It’s no longer about having the younger generation just being the buyers of these products. How do we teach them how to be the next coders, developers, strategists and creators behind the strategy of production of these tangible products that are being sold? That’s our goal.